Media Moment: The double-edged reality of tween group chats

Media Moment: The double-edged reality of tween group chats

The pressure of being added to a group chat, through texting or on a social media platform, is an ambiguous concept for adults. In fact, it’s a challenge for adults to truly grasp the pressures of social media in general. No matter what decade someone is born into, inclusion within social circles is a vital facet of childhood. That said, with the recent rise of social media, social circles are blurrier, and the ability for one to ostracize someone else is far more accessible. Middle and high schoolers can attest to the panic-inducing notifications, heightened stress levels, and endless drama that group chats ultimately bring into their daily routines.

In sixth grade, I held my tongue as my peers kicked one of my friends from our shared group chat. I feared that speaking out meant that I would be the next one to be removed. Tensions rocketed between friend groups, and for the first time, texting was to blame. As my fellow classmates and I walked the halls of our school, we glared at our phones, our heads buzzing with questions: “What is the boy’s group chat talking about?”, “Did the girls make a new chat without me?”, “I wonder if I am going to be the butt of the joke in the chat today.”

Many teens/tweens have a love-hate relationship with group chats, often viewing them as a true double-edged sword. On one hand, group chats offer validation and inclusion, the aphrodisiacs of every tweenager. There’s a fulfilling yet artificial confirmation gained from being added to the “cool” or “exclusive” group chats. On the other hand, there’s also the impending stress, anxiety, and fear of being kicked out once accepted into the “cool” chat, or even worse, of being bullied.

From my own firsthand experience as a student facing the group text stress outlined above, my hope is that today’s caregivers of tweens will use the following techniques to help their child create a healthy mindset around their social media use:

  1. Watch for signs of anxiety regarding their phone: Persistent flipping, tensing up at notifications, defensive behavior when asked what they are looking at – these can all be tell-tale signs of the drama or negativity about what is happening on their phone.
  2. Ask check-in questions: When I was asked simple questions in middle school, like: “How are the kids at school?”, my answer was either “Good!” or a harsh defensive mumble. If my reaction was the latter, it meant something was going on at school and I needed guidance. Asking neutral, friendly questions reiterates your participation and support, and ultimately allows for more vulnerable conversations with your tween.
  3. Support & validation: Remind your child of their strengths, how important they are, and how irrelevant any drama now will be with time. My favorite saying is: “If it won’t matter in five years, only stress for five minutes.”

As a teen growing up in this technological era, and as someone who mediates kids’ media-oriented miscommunications on a daily basis, I want to stress the importance of being aware and observant when it comes to your child’s phone. When it comes to technology, we must not be overbearing, accusatory, or mistrusting, but enlightened.

– Beatrix Battelle, a high school student at Riverdale Country School